Eggleston’s Southern Gothic restored…
Legendary photographer William Eggleston, working with filmmaker Robert Gordon, recently edited thirty hours of video footage he’d shot in 1974 of friends, family, and eclectic characters encountered in the bars and back roads of his hometown of Memphis, as well as New Orleans and the Delta region.
The hypnotic result is Stranded in Canton, a film that consistently teeters on the edge of dream and nightmare states. Its nocturnal visions of bar denizens, musicians (including Furry Lewis), transvestites and a variety of semi-crazies comes off like a Cassavetes all-nighter filmed by David Lynch at his most unsettling: faces loom out of darkness, shot in infrared, displaying pale glowing skin and deep black eyes. There’s even a real-life geek-off (yes, the type with chickens)!
And it’s mesmerizing, partly thanks to the outsized characters who fill the screen, and partly because Eggleston turns the “home movie” into art — Father of Modern Color Photography he may be, but he kicks just as much ass in eerie B&W, wrenching glorious images out of the early Sony Porta-Pak to conjure a febrile, desperate atmosphere that captures the Southern Gothic with an extraordinarily raw and rambling intimacy.
“STRANDED IN CANTON” 1974/2008 directed by William Eggleston
don’t miss the screening this tuesday 11.2 — special guests TBA @ the Cinefamily organized by LACMA in conjunction with its exhibition opening today “William Eggleston: Democratic Camera – Photographs and Video, 1961-2008” — though januay 2011…
interview with director Julien Nitzberg…
Julien Nitzberg, associate producer of the cult documentary Dancing Outlaw, which stars the notorious Appalachian mountain dancer Jesco White, has set himself up for the same criticism that often gets leveled at fiction filmmakers like Lars Von Trier and Michael Haneke. When directors show politically incorrect behavior without passing judgment on that behavior, it rubs many folks the wrong way, leading to charges of misogyny in Von Trier’s case or nihilism in Haneke’s. Nitzberg’s latest film, The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia, has and will most certainly be judged exploitative for its celebratory portrayal of Jesco and his kin: poor, white, violent West Virginian drug dealers who have no qualms about snorting pills for the camera at their octogenarian matriarch’s birthday party. But underlying the reality-TV hi-jinks is a true respect for the subjects. Nitzberg seems almost in awe of the Whites’ ability to buck the system so thoroughly and blatantly. The Whites indeed have created their own lawless world where the primal, Biblical eye-for-an-eye rule trumps all. One can’t help but think Werner Herzog would be tickled pink by both the doc and the rebel director behind its lens.
Slant:What possessed you to want to make a film about the Whites and how did the production eventually come together?
Julien Nitzberg: I met Mamie White back in 1989 when I was making a documentary about Boone County‘s famous rockabilly and proto-punk singer, Hasil Adkins. Hasil and D. Ray White, the famous tap-dancing patriarch of the White family, used to perform together, so the Whites were good friends of Hasil’s. I was shooting Hasil’s concert and a crazed catfight broke out between three female fans of Hasil. This fight was like something out of an old western and went on forever. Finally Mamie jumped in and broke it up, tossing each woman to a different side of the bar like they were baby dolls. She was on acid that night and was pissed the catfight was ruining her good party. A week later, I saw Mamie again and she was on acid again. She kindly invited me to her birthday party, where she promised me she would have a “cake with tits and a pussy on it.” As a man who loves cake, I found this to be an offer I couldn’t refuse. At her house, I met Jesco and immediately became obsessed with the whole family. I went back the next week and shot the first footage of Jesco. This footage became the basis of Dancing Outlaw, the PBS documentary that made Jesco into a cult icon. So, 20 years later I get a call telling me that Johnny Knoxville was a fan of my documentaries and wanted to meet me. At this point, I’d stopped making documentaries and was working in Hollywood writing scripts for HBO and had just written and directed an operetta called The Beastly Bombing or a Terrible Tale of Terrorists Tamed by the Tangles of True Love, about a group of white supremacists who come to New York to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge and meet a group of Al Qaeda terrorists who have arrived at the same time with the same plan. They eventually bond musically with songs about how much they both hate Jews. Anyway, Knoxville and I met and became friends, bonding over a mutual love of David Allan Coe’s X-rated country albums. He started coming to see Beastly Bombing every week and we started talking about doing a project together. I showed him my early Jesco footage one day and then the next thing I know he had the idea that I had to go back to West Virginia.
“THE WILD AND WONDERFUL WHITES OF WEST VIRGINIA” 2009 directed by Julien Nitzberg
they’re not all bad…
Celebrities often forget that being famous doesn’t mean you’re good at everything. So it’s not surprising that some of our most praised and self-obsessed, thinking they had something deep to say, have tested the waters of poetry.
As you might expect, the poetry “establishment”–primarily the poets and critics that orbit and inhabit academia–doesn’t welcome celebs with open arms. In some cases, it won’t even acknowledge their existence. The Poetry Foundation’s Best Sellers list, for example, refuses to include celebrities. Elitism? In part. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard accomplished poets like Billy Collins–a former poet laureate for God’s sake–get ripped for being too readable. It’s also jealousy and frustration: if you’d worked a lifetime on your craft only to get outsold by Jewel–by about a million copies–you’d understand. And finally–let’s be honest–celebrity poems can be really, really bad.
from“Warmed by Love” by Leonard Nimoy…
But so are roses
On a birthday
Computers are exciting
But so is a sunset
Will never replace
Sometimes I wonder
Where I belong
In the future
In the past
I guess I’m just
a couple rhymers by Charlie Sheen…
Teacher, teacher, I don’t understand,
You tell me it’s like the back of my hand.
Should I play guitar and join the band?
Or head to the beach and walk in the sand?
Oh, teacher, teacher, I don’t understand…
… Teacher, teacher, the years have passed,
I never thought it would go so fast,
The things I learned they didn’t last.
I’m headin’ to sea as I raise the mast.
Oh, teacher, teacher, I’m a peace of your past.
There’s a goat in my ass,
Living mainly on grass.
They say the creature was stolen,
yet he feeds on my colon.
I don’t know how it got there,
As I burp up an occasional hair.
Often times I’ll sit and stare,
And drop pellets from my underwear.
Oh, these feelings may pass,
This wondrous goat,
In my ass.
and a bit from “Touch Me” by Suzanne Somers…
Organic girl dropped by last night
For nothing in particular
Except to tell me again how beautiful and serene she feels
On uncooked vegetables and wheat germ fortified by bean sprouts–
Mixed with yeast and egg whites on really big days–
She not only meditates regularly, but looks at me like I should
And lectures me about meat and ice cream
And other aggressive foods I shouldn’t eat.
If anyone has any extra love
Even a heartbeat
Or a touch or two
I wish they wouldn’t waste it on dogs.
Kristen Wiig with a terrific rendition of a few Somers classics…
a google eye view of the failed utopoia turned earth work…
In the desert 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles is a suburb abandoned in advance of itself—the unfinished extension of a place called California City. Visible from above now are a series of badly paved streets carved into the dust and gravel, like some peculiarly American response to the Nazca Lines. The uninhabited street plan has become an abstract geoglyph—unintentional land art visible from airplanes—not a thriving community at all.
On Google Street View, distant structures like McMansions can be made out here and there amidst the ghost-grid, mirages of suburbia in the middle of nowhere. To make things slightly more surreal, in an attempt to boost its economic fortunes, California City hired actor Erik Estrada, of CHiPs fame, to act as the town’s media spokesperson.
The history of the town itself is of a failed Californian utopia—in fact, incredibly, if completed, it was intended to rival Los Angeles.
prolific low budget sexploitation auteur madman genius…
Infidelity timed around the LIRR schedule. Key parties and sloppy boozing among the split-level set. Swappers, cheaters, hookers, and go-go girls. This was the world of filmmaker Joseph Sarno, who died in April of this year in his Manhattan home, age 89, living long enough to see his fecund output celebrated far beyond Times Square.
Not among the sexual-revolution opportunists who self-advertised as First Amendment Freedom Riders, Sarno’s soft-core psychodramas have been reappraised in the past decade on the merit of their own earnest, low-rent artistry (and through the efforts of home-video labels Something Weird and Retro Seduction Cinema, and writer Michael J. Bowen, at work on a Sarno biography). In the years following a retro at 2003’s New York Underground Film Festival, the owl-browed eminence was fested and feted across Europe. His work now returns stateside, to Anthology, for a five-film farewell.
Brooklyn-born in 1921, Joseph W. Sarno and his family emigrated with the first big wave of Long Island suburbanites to the middle-class commuter country that would be the setting of his defining work. Before becoming an avid chronicler of female erotic reaction, Sarno lived a certified red-meat Greatest Generation life: high school boxing and football, the Navy in World War II, a couple of marriages. Then, during a professional lull while making industrial films and writing ad copy, the nearing-40 Sarno wrote a sex movie at the suggestion of a friend. Co-director on that 1961 artists-and-models peek-a-boo, Nude in Charcoal, Sarno wrote and directed all of his 75-plus films that followed.
Sarno brought rare rigor to nil-budget shoots with schedules of a week or less. Actors—schlubby men and a menagerie of females with fascinating dimple chins and overbites—look out from the itchy-tight cell of a master shot. Choreographing down to the meaningful arch of a plucked, penciled-in eyebrow, Sarno got responsive performances in edged-with-desperation scenes that were mostly repetitive build-ups and delays rather than actual sexual calisthenics. (The “money shots” in Sarno’s ’60s nudie cuties are generally girls shucking bra straps off to reveal their bare shoulders.)
From Nude’s Village nightspot “Bongo Tom’s,” Sarno took the beat of bump-and-grind jazz quartets into the suburbs. He shot exteriors in hometown Amityville for his first color film, Moonlighting Wives (1966), the tale of Clairol-redhead Tammy Latour building an empire of play-for-pay housewives. Also in that year’s bumper crop was The Bed and How to Make It!, with broad-hipped Lolita Francine Ashley fermenting revolt in Aunt Patricia McNair’s motel, and scenes shot inside a Brooklyn bar called Cocoa Poodle. It’s this period that Andrew Sarris was thinking of in 1971 when appreciating in these pages the “suburban Italian look” of Sarno’s actors, and the “cramped compositions and flat perspective [that] were the ideal stylistic expressions of a charmingly naive Satanism.”
Sarno’s filmmaking, including a Florida vacation, remained East Coast–vernacular until the late ’60s. Then, in the heyday of “Scandinavian permissiveness,” Sarno decamped for Sweden at the behest of producer Jerry Gross. In 1968, Inga, the first of Sarno’s many runaway Swedish productions, began the flashing meteoric sex-stardom of Marie Liljedahl, playing the titular orphaned 17-year-old. Monica Strömmerstedt plays Inga’s guardian aunt (yet another), still trying to make the scene at 33, conspiring to auction her charge’s virginity so as to maintain an expensive affair with a sullen young writer-gigolo. The movie opens on Liljedahl playing with wind-up toys, then cuts to automaton kids jerking their hips to a pop song that blares about how “Everybody’s so hung up to do what they really feel.” Free love is in fashion, and Sarno’s swinging Stockholm is trapped in lockstep “liberated” beat. The filmmaker always recognized the pitfalls of the scene he celebrated.
Inga was one of many all-in-the-family scenarios that Sarno filmed through the years. In 1974’s Confessions of a Young American Housewife, fine-boned swinger Rebecca Brooke wanders among bare-limbed trees and trickling acoustic guitar, wondering how to liberate ripe-to-bursting widowed mother Jennifer Welles, who ends up almost too free when visiting a lesbian shaman. So many of Sarno’s last acts emphasize loss, abandonment, and punishment, but this shouldn’t brand him a closet prude. Desire in these films is a painful-ecstatic delirium, just too powerful to ever be casual.
Come the release of Confessions, the market for soft-core blocked out like Uncle Vanya was disappearing. Throats deepened, censorship laws loosened, and sex flicks without gross anatomy became antique. Sarno began doing hush-hush hard-core shoots, buried quietly under a mountain of pseudonyms such as “Irving Weiss,” “Monica Fitta,” and a dozen others. But when he was just Joe Sarno, there was nobody quite like him.
“NUDE IN CHARCOAL” 1961, “THE BED AND HOW TO MAKE IT!” 1966, “MOONLIGHTING WIVES” 1966, “INGA” 1968, “CONFESSIONS OF A YOUNG AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE” 1974 directed by Joseph Sarno
screening 10.29-31 @ Anthology Film Archives, NYC…
ancient remains of the Bo People hang high on cliff faces in China…
The Bo were an ethnic minority people living astride the borders of modern day Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. There they created a brilliant culture as early as 3,000 years ago. The ancestors of the Bo helped the Western Zhou (c.1100 771 BC) to overthrow the ruling Yin at the end of the Shang Dynasty (c.1600 1100 BC).
The Bo differed from other ethnic groups in their burial customs. Typically hewn from durable hardwood logs, their hanging coffins went unpainted. The most recent hanging coffins were made up to about 400 years ago in the middle and later periods of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), while many of the earliest ones date back 1,000 years to the Song Dynasty (960-1279). To date, the earliest hanging coffin was one found in the Three Gorges area, dating back about 2,500 years to the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC- 476 BC).
The hanging coffin was the most widespread form of burial in ancient southwest China. However, the practice ended with the mysterious disappearance of the Bo People. Those who came after knew them from the hanging coffins and the paintings they left behind like faint echoes on the cliffs. Their ancient flowering of culture like that of the Maya is no more.
The hanging coffins were once a hot topic among architects, paleoanthropologists, folklorists and artists. In the Spring of 1941, experts on antiquities including Liang Sicheng, Lin Huiyin, Liu Dunzhen and Chen Mingda arrived at Sumawan, which is today part of Gongxian County. From far off, they saw a cliff some 600 meters long and rising 120 meters. Nearly 100 coffins hung on the cliff side supported on wooden stakes wedged into the rock. Other coffins rested on rock outcrops.
Some believed the coffins must have been lowered down with ropes from the top of the mountain. Some thought the coffins had been put in place using wooden stakes inserted into the cliff face to be used as artificial climbing aids. Others felt that scaling ladders were the answer. Lin said they could leave the mystery for later generations to solve.
Li Jing writing during the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) offers a clue in his Brief Chronicles of Yunnan. “Coffins set high are considered auspicious. The higher they are the more propitious for the dead. And those whose coffins fell to the ground sooner were considered to be more fortunate.”
Cui Chen who is Curator of the Yibin Museum examines three different ways the coffins could have been put in place. “Earth ramps might have been used but experts discount this solution due to the extent of the labor required, which would have been difficult in an under-populated area. A timber scaffold supported on stakes in the cliff might have offered a plausible explanation but years of investigation have failed to find even a single stake hole. On balance the third option of lowering the coffins on ropes from above had always seemed feasible and now cultural specialists have found the telltale marks of the ropes which were used all these years ago. And so this part of the mystery of the hanging coffins has now been resolved.”
During the later years of the Ming Dynasty, the imperial army cruelly oppressed the ethnic minority peoples of Sichuan and Yunnan. In particular, the Duzhangman and Bo Peoples fell, victims of massacre. To escape their oppression, the Bo migrated to new locations. They hid their real names and integrated into other ethnic groups. Like their culture they have disappeared but their descendents are still here for they are a part of us.